All posts in “Gadgets”

There are too many damn iPads to choose from now

Apple’s lost control of its product line. The company now offers 17 different iPads thanks to a new group of 9.7-inch devices announced on Tuesday—and boy, that’s really too many iPads.

So we’re clear, there are four distinct iPad models, but there are several versions of each, which means consumers are faced with a mountain of options when they’re shopping for one. You can get an iPad Mini 4, a regular ol’ iPad, or one of two sizes of iPad Pro. 

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That’s already quite a bit to sift through, and then you get to the storage and connectivity options:

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Like we said: Hella iPads. 

This sort of thing is turning into a trend for Apple. Consider the current MacBook line: Each of the three models has certain tradeoffs and benefits, but not in the ways you’d expect. The “regular” MacBook is lighter than the Air, which has better battery life than the Pro and so on. Apple’s branding isn’t straightforward, which forces consumers to do a frustrating amount of research only to arrive at an imperfect choice. 

Choice is, like, an illusion, man

Perhaps the onslaught of choices is there to railroad people into spending a little more money. Let’s think about the most budget-conscious consumer: Do you get the new iPad, which is $329 for a 9.7-inch screen with 32GB of storage, or the smaller iPad Mini 4 for $399? That seems kind of obvious: Get the bigger thing for less money. But that 7.9-inch iPad Mini 4 actually comes with four times the storage space — 128GB.

Storage is cheap (for Apple)

Tablet customers probably want more than 32GB of storage — these devices are basically made to be multimedia machines, which means you’ll want the space to download movies, games, pictures, comics and music. Suddenly, the 128GB iPad Mini 4 looks more appealing … except then you realize the 128GB iPad is “just” $30 more at $429, so maybe you just throw your hands up and get that one. And voila, you’ve moved from the $329 iPad that started this whole thing to the $429 one.

Sure, this is a hypothetical situation —certainly there are people who just want the “cheapest” iPad, or the smallest one — but Apple has long leveraged those gigabytes as a way to steer customers toward pricey upgrades. Storage is cheap: Apple only pays $12 more to make a 64GB iPhone than a 16GB one, according to an analysis from IHS Technology, but the device with more storage sells for $100 more. 

In other words, it’s not a mistake that there are so many iPad options.

Trim the fat

Anyway, we could harp on storage pricing all day, but the issues with the iPad are more fundamental. The four-device lineup includes two units (the 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch iPad Pros) that are specifically targeted to business users. Case in point, Apple’s recent string of advertisements that show how efficient its tablets are for things like word-processing.

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I’ll tell ya: I have a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Apple’s “Smart Keyboard,” and it’s better than a laptop in the same way that walking through waist-high water is better than running on a track. Which is to say, it’s not.

Still, the Apple Pencil is kind of neat, the gigantic screen rules and there’s certainly a market of first-class-flying business people who just want a light tablet they can use to type on their tray tables. Fine, let’s keep the 12.9-inch Pro.

What suddenly makes zero sense, with Tuesday’s announcement of the new iPad, is the 9.7-inch iPad Pro that’s already on the market. The two devices are strikingly similar: The screen is the same size, its resolution is the same, the battery life is identical and the two iPads are very close in overall weight and dimensions. 

Apple should kill the 9.7-inch Pro

The most meaningful differences? The Pro is compatible with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, and its camera is much nicer. Apple also says its A9 chip is a bit more powerful, with a CPU that’s 1.85-times rather than 1.6-times faster than the A8 chip in the iPad Mini 4, but we can’t imagine anyone’s obsessing over that.

Chances are, the camera isn’t super relevant to you — your phone probably has one that’s just as good or better. Jumping from the new iPad to the Pro version means a $270 leap in price for the privilege of using Apple’s proprietary keyboard and stylus. That just doesn’t make much sense (there are plenty of Bluetooth keyboards that work with the new iPad!).

Let’s face it, Apple should kill the 9.7-inch Pro. True Enterprise customers would be left with one Pro model to choose — the largest iPad — and lighter business users could connect a keyboard to the new 9.7-inch iPad and go happily on their way.

While we’re cutting things: 32 is the new 16. A tablet should have a higher amount of storage as a baseline option. The iPad Mini 4 starts at 128GB — in fact, that’s all it comes in — which makes a lot of sense. 

In our magical iPad utopia the lineup looks more like this:

Eight options, not 17. A couple of storage options for that super-big, 12.9-inch iPad Pro, a 128GB 9.7-inch iPad and the 128GB iPad Mini 4. (While we’re at it, we could probably kill the 128GB iPad Pro and just assume anyone who’s willing to drop that much money on an iPad Pro would go ahead and buy the 256GB version.)

Tablets are a really basic product. They’re essentially giant phones you use less. They’re good for kids, they’re good for schools and they’re fantastic leisure devices, but there’s really no reason for them to come in so many permutations. If you’re buying an iPad, the question you should be asking yourself is, “How big do I need my screen to be?” Not: “Eek, do I need the A9X processor, will 32GB be enough,” yadda, yadda, yadda.

Time to streamline, Apple.

Wanna hack your car? Macchina is a plug-and-vroom solution

You can hack your IKEA furniture to be more awesome. You can hack video games to make your fellow gamers hate your guts. And with the help of Macchina — now on Kickstarter — you can teach your car a few new tricks, too. What could possibly go wrong?

Banana for scale

Macchina is a little device that plugs into your car. Nothing revolutionary so far; Automatic has been offering that for years. What is new, however, is that Macchina’s little wonderchild can read and write to your car’s ECU. Which means it can be used not just to figure out what is happening in the dark, mysterious crevasses of your car’s intestines… It also can be used to change things. Suffice to say; it’s probably a good idea to know what you’re doing before you start changing numbers.

Macchina is based on the Arduino Due platform, which means there are a ton of code examples there.

“This is a fantastic development platform built for newcomers and professionals alike,” the team says, although, as hinted at before, it would probably take a particularly steady fingered novice to want to take the risk of changing too much right off the bat. The team is also committed to making both hardware and software open source.

The device is designed to be a comprehensive platform, and can be connected to a number of peripherals, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Ethernet and cellular networks via break-out boards.

Overall, it’s one of those tremendously exciting projects that could completely turn the car peripherals world inside out, at a price-point that makes a lot of sense, too. The campaign has raised almost 5x its $25,000 goal, so it’s looking pretty good for now. Of course, it’s still a Kickstarter campaign, so caveat emptor, but damn if this isn’t a mighty tasty project

Stop Everything, There’s a Red iPhone 7 Now

Some mornings—not many, but some—you wake up to a new iPhone. Surprise! This is one of those mornings. And while today’s new iPhone acts just like the old one, it adds a certain special something. It’s red.

Yes, red, a bright, brilliant, gleaming red, a shade so bright it makes rose gold blush. The case is red. The buttons are red. The fiddly little nano-SIM tray? It’s red, too. The Apple logo? Not red. Sorry! But it really pops against all the rest of the red.

Inside, of course, the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have all the same internals as their space grey (and so on) counterparts. But that’s okay! New gadgets don’t have to be functionally different to make a difference. The new iPhone looks like a direct line between Commissioner Gordon and Batman. It looks like it’s been doused in a nail polish called You Look Ink-RED-Able. It looks like it was made from Iron Man’s shoulder pads. It’s red, you know?

And like the rest of Apple’s RED (the brand) products, a portion of the proceeds go toward the Global Fund, a group committed to fighting AIDS around the world. It’s available Friday, March 24, starting at $750 for a 128GB model.


It’s joined, also, by a much less red but no less significant new iPad, which also doesn’t add a ton in the performance area—there’s a wee processor upgrade—but does dramatically cut the entry price of a 9.7-inch Apple tablet. The new iPad starts at $330 for 32GB, down from $400 previously. And to finish out the housekeeping, Apple dropped the 16GB SE in favor of a 32GB entry model without upping the price. Oh, and the iPad Mini now comes only in a 128GB version, which seems like a lot of GB for a tiny tablet.

All of which seems nice enough, but let’s stay on point. There’s a red iPhone 7 now. And it looks kind of great.

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The Gladius underwater drone will shoot in 4K as it reaches the briny deep

First drones took to the air. Now they take to the sea! The Gladius is basically a remote-controlled submarine with a 4K camera that can dive to 100 meters.

I’ve looked at a prototype and it’s quite handsome. A big, yellow double-barreled monster, the beast is controlled via a phone-connected remote and it is semi-tethered, which means it can roll out about 500 meters with the right gear.

The basic kit comes with the drone, a 1080p camera, 30 meter tether, and a “wifi bouy” that acts as a sort of a repeater. It’s designed to be deployed from the beach but you can dump it into the sea from anywhere. It costs $599 for early birds and the 4K model costs $799. It has “four degrees of freedom” which means you can dive deep to meet a turtle or a fridge.​

I’ll have a fuller review once it gets warmer in Brooklyn, but from what I’ve seen, it looks to be a clever and cool way to have fun at the beach or spot rusted guns in the Gowanus.

NASA’s pop-up robot can tackle tight spots where rovers can’t reach

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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is pretty much a non-stop source of amazing things, and the latest is the PUFFER, or Pop-Up Flat Folding Robot. The design of the robot is inspired by origami, and folding is its specialty. The robot can tuck in its wheels and flatten out to fit under overhead limits that might prevent a typical rover from gaining entry, meaning it can explore the surfaces of distant moons and planets much more thoroughly.

How the robot works is pretty easy to grasp if you view the video above, or the GIF below. Basically, the wheels flatten down almost parallel with the ground, still providing some traction but really maximizing overhead clearance. It has solar panels on its underside for charging up, and the wheels have a tread meant to give it purchase on steeper climbs of up to 45 degrees in incline. There’s a tail, too, which stabilizes the bot as it makes its way around.

PUFFER isn’t only useful in space; on Earth, it could help scientists reach volcanic crevasses and other places where it’s hard for traditional robots to go, and impossible for humans to reach. The next step in its development is adding sensors and other instruments for scientific study capabilities, and also giving it some autonomous smarts (it’s currently remote-controlled via Bluetooth) so that it can act not only on its own, but also in coordinated swarms.

You can imagine a larger rover carrying a belly full of PUFFERs flat-packed for maximum storage capacity. Then it can deploy the origami bots for more detailed exploration of its immediate surroundings when it finds a suitable spot for study. Also, I want these as pets, so let’s work on that, too.